To Which Publishers Should I Submit My Collection?
Many publishers won't look at poetry at all. Check Writer's Market [better yet, Poet's Market] or the International Directory before trying any. Better yet, check your bookstore. You will find very little poetry from any publisher – and that should tell you something. Some of the big publishers do bring out a few volumes of poetry each year, and, true, these are the books which are most likely to be reviewed and the ones most likely to win awards. The poets are either known or have connections. The books don't sell – and usually are only nominally distributed. If you have been publishing widely in the quarterlies, the little magazines, and the quality popular magazines, if your name is bandied about on the cocktail circuit, if you have friends in the literary establishment, or if you are notorious for reasons other than poetry, it might be worth your while to submit to the big trade publishers. Otherwise, save your postage – and the time of the busy office help who will return your manuscript (after long delay) without looking at it.
Smaller trade publishers and university presses are much better bets. Some of the latter, especially, have series of poetry books: the Wesleyan University Press series, for instance, has been a major publication medium both for new and established poets for many years. Some university presses, though, publish none at all. You'll probably do much better trying one of the small publishers listed in the International Directory. Many believe (I do) that the future of publishing in this country for all specialized interests, including all artistic writing, lies in the small press movement which is flourishing today. We are in the midst of a process of decentralization in which New York and other major cities are losing their grip on the arts in general and literary publication in particular. There was a similar movement in the twenties, but it is much truer today that writing of high quality, especially that of an experimental nature, is more likely to be found appearing in the hundreds of small magazines and issuing from the thousands of small, scattered publishers than in the national magazines and from big trade publishers.
For all publishers, big or small, query before sending a whole manuscript. Send a sample of your work. Find out whether you will have to contribute to the cost of publication and what the terms will be. In the case of small presses, find out how they handle distribution and whether they have been getting reviews of their poetry. Some of them do succeed in getting poetry into bookstores and getting it reviewed in little magazines. Some also advertise in these magazines, where the rates are not prohibitive.
Sorry to be so steadily negative, but I would like to protect you from later disillusionment. Who reads these reviews? And who orders books he has seen ads for or books he has seen reviewed? Do you, for instance? What would the state of poetry be like if it were dependent upon people like you for sales? If you consider yourself a poet and are interested in getting a book published and, presumably, would like for people to buy that book once it appears, you might ask yourself how many books of poetry you bought in the last year. Where did you find out about them? What impelled you to buy them? Did you read a review and send in your money to a publisher? Did you find the book in a bookstore? The answers to these questions will tell you a great deal about what you may expect in regard to your own book.